S.R. BOMMAI VS. UNION OF INDIA

This Article written by Manasvita Tejsi, a student of Rajiv Gandhi National Law University.

CITATION: S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, (1993) 3 SCC 1

DATE OF JUDGEMENT: 11th March, 1994

 JUDGES: Ratnavel Pandian, A.M. Ahmedi, Kuldip Singh, J.S. Verma, P.B. Sawant, K. Ramaswamy, S.C. Agarwal, Yogesh Dayal and B.P. Jeevan Reddy.

 ARGUMENTS

Petitioner

S.R. Bommai was the petitioner and he contended that:

  • There was no actual satisfactory reason for the imposition of President’s Rule and it was done under bad faith or mala fide
  • It was also contented by him that he was not given a chance to prove his majority in the house of the government i.e. no floor test took place.

Respondents

Union of India contended that:

  • The counsel for Union of India contended that judicial review is quite different in both constitutive and administrative arena. Court has the authority to extend its jurisdiction in an administrative matter with respect to the question relating to the statutory powers of a public authority and it does not have the same jurisdiction in a constitutive manner. It can merely declare actions as ultra vires. The same was considered here and it was contested that the court cannot decide whether the conditions for the imposition of President’s Rule are valid.
  • The Court cannot question the proclamation based on the advice on the Council of Ministers. Moreover, any judicial review of reasons behind this proclamation can be barred.
  • It was also contended that when the acts of the State Government are not secular, it can be dissolved, under the contention of Secularism.

ISSUES

  • Whether the imposition of the President’s Rule was constitutional or unconstitutional?
  • What is the purview of judicial review?
  • Does the President have unrestricted access under Article 356(1)?
  • What is the interpretation of Article 356(1)?

FACTS

Article 356 was called as a ‘dead letter’ by Bhimrao Ambedkar. The same was reiterated in the instant case. Janta Dal was the ruling party in the State of Karnataka in the year 1989 headed by S.R. Bommai. There was a question of proving majority as many members defected. A suggestion was made by the Chief Minister to the Governor that the ruling party should be given a chance to prove majority in the house of the government through the virtue of the floor test.

The Governor did not comply with the same and suggested to the President that Article 356(1) can be applied as S.R. Bommai had not proved his majority in the house and there was no other party competent enough to replace the ruling party. The proclamation for the same was made under Article 356(1) of the Indian Constitution and S.R. Bommai filed a petition against the aforementioned action in the Karnataka High Court. A President’s rule degrades the federal aspect of the nation with which it was formed. The Court held that the reasons why the proclamation was issued can be held under judicial review. But in its judgment, the Hon’ble Court said that the Governor’s intentions cannot be questioned and facts in Governor’s reports cannot be deemed as inadmissible as it was based on facts and there was reasonability in the reports. It was also observed by the court that the floor test was not necessary and it was not a prerequisite condition to the Governor’s report. Hence, the High Court upheld the report and the proclamation. Similar proclamations were upheld by courts in the states Meghalaya, Nagaland, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The petitioner further appealed in the Hon’ble Supreme Court wherein the case, along with other cases which held the same judgement in the high courts, was heard. The court gave some guidelines so that Article 356 is not misused.

  • The floor test is necessary and that in itself will adjudge the majority of the Council of Ministers.
  • If Article 356 is misused, the court will give remedy to the aggrieved.
  • Article 356(3) provides for a limitation of President’s proclamation. Thus, until the Parliament gives their approval, the President shall not dissolve the government.
  • A warning and a time of one week should be given to the state to reply.
  • The court can question the material behind the satisfaction of the President in issuing of Proclamation.
  • If the proclamation that is announced is made invalid by the court, then the assembly can be revived.

The Supreme Court also held that Article 356(1) is not barred from judicial review. The Supreme Court laid out the interpretation and issued guidelines with respect to the use and the misuse of Article 356. The issue of constitutional cause vs. administrative cause was differentiated by the same case. It gave certain powers to the state government as well. This is one of the landmark cases in the Indian Judicial System.